LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
Dallas’s Recollections of Lord Byron.
Gentleman’s Magazine  Vol. 94  (November 1824)  529-31.
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186. Recollections of the Life of Lord Byron from the year 1808 to the end of the year 1814; exhibiting his early Character and Opinions, detailing the progress of his Literary career, and including various unpublished passages from his Works. Taken from authentic documents in the possession of the Author. By the lateR. C. Dallas, Esq. To which is prefixed an account of the circumstances leading to the suppression of Lord Byron’s Correspondence with the Author, and his letters to his Mother, lately announced for Publication. 8vo. pp. 344. C. Knight.

Mr. DALLAS, the author of the “Recollections,” has soon followed the subject of his work to the “bourne whence no traveller returns.” He was at the time of his death 70 years of age, and was personally connected with the Noble Lord’s family, his sister having married the father of the present Peer. These circumstances led, at one period of his Lordship’s life, to a degree of intimacy; in the course of which Mr. Dallas not only became one of his Correspondents, but was entrusted with the duty of an Editor to several of his poems, and lastly was made the depositary of many of his Lordship’s confidential letters to his mother and other persons. Whether those letters were or were not intended by Lord Byron to see the light at a future period, is a matter of some doubt. We confess we think they were; but his executors have restrained their publication. A long “preliminary statement,” of 97 pages, drawn up by the Rev. A. R. C. Dallas, son of the Author, is occupied with the disputes between his father and the executors, who obtained an injunction from the Court of Chancery against the publication of the Letters. We pass over this, and come to the “Recollections.”

They set out by stating that Lord Byron was born at Dover (not near Aberdeen, as said in part i. p. 561) Jan. 22, 1788. His father died at Valenciennes shortly after this event, and his mother went with her child to Scotland. Mr. Dallas’s intimacy commenced early in 1808, in consequence of the publication of “Hours of Idleness;” and Mr. Dallas, being so much the senior, conveyed to his Lordship, together with many warm encomiums on his verses, much friendly admonition as to his moral sentiments. The young Nobleman had even at that period imbibed many pernicious errors, and indulged in many demoralising propensities. Mr. Dallas, who was a man of strong religious feeling, seems inclined to ascribe much of the evil to his Lordship’s having associated with some young men of atheistical opinions at Cambridge. However this may have been, his errors certainly were not those of the head alone. Pleased as he was with flattery, he indulged in an absolute malignity of bitterness against those who offended him by the least degree of slight: and the rapid transitions from one of these states of mind to the other exhibit him in a light not merely ridiculous, but despicable. Lord Byron being about to take his seat in the House of Lords on his coming of age, wrote to his relation Lord Carlisle to introduce him into that Assembly. Just at that moment Lord Byron was engaged in writing his Satire, The English Bards and Scotch Reviewers; and he introduced into his manuscript these lines—
On one alone Apollo deigns to smile,
And crowns a new Roscommon in Carlisle.

The noble subject of this adulation, however, unfortunately declined volunteering his service as an introductor to Parliament; and Lord Byron substituted in the copy the following heartless sarcasm on his relation’s age:
No more will cheer with renovating smile
The paralytic puling of Carlisle.

Mr. Dallas is of opinion that the death of his uncle Capt. George Byron (father of the present Peer) was “the greatest loss Lord Byron, (however unconscious of it, for he was only five years of age) ever sustained:”

530 Review.—Dallas’s Recollections of Lord Byron.

“His uncle George (says Mr. D.) not only stood high in his profession, but was generally beloved, and personally well connected. Had be returned from India with health, he would have made amends for the failure resulting from the supineness or faults of other parts of the family; and his nephew would have grown up in society that would have given a different turn to his feelings. The Earl of Carlisle and his family would have acted a different part. They received his sister kindly as a relation (she was th« daughter of a former wife), and there could have been no reason why their arms should not have been open to him also, had he not been altogether unknown to them personally, or had not some suspicion of impropriety in the mode of his being brought up attached to him or his mother. Be this as it may, certain it is, his relations never thought of him nor cared for him; and he was left, both at school and at College, to the mercy of the stream into which circumstances had thrown him. Dissipation was the natural consequence.”

The picture of Lord Byron’s mind on first quitting England in 1809, is a most melancholy one. His profligacy, at the early age of 21, had already rendered him miserable. “Misanthropy, disgust of life leading to scepticism and impiety, prevailed in his heart, and embittered hit existence.” The feelings with which he quitted his native land are thus described:

“At this period of his life, his mind was full of bitter discontent. Already satiated with pleasure, and disgusted with those companions who have no other resource, he had resolved on mastering his appetites; he broke up his harams, and he reduced his palate to a diet the most simple and abstemious. But the passions of his heart were too mighty; nor did it ever enter his mind to overcome them. Resentment, anger, and hatred, held full sway over him; and his greatest gratification at that time was in overcharging his pen with gall, which flowed in every direction against individuals, his country, the world, the universe, creation, and the Creator.”

Lord Byron was absent on his first tour exactly two years. At the time of his return his mother was dying, and she had expired before he reached Newstead Abbey. For her he appears to have felt an affection truly filial. About the same time he heard of the death of two College friends, to whom he was much attached. The wretchedness which he at that period expressed speaks in favour of the natural susceptibility of his heart.

“He appeared to be afflicted in youth; he thought with the greatest unhappiness of old age, to see those he loved fall about him and to stand solitary before he was withered.”...“He had not, like others, domestic resources: and his internal anticipations gave him no prospect in time or eternity, except the selfish gratifications of living longer than those who were better.”

In our review of Capt. Medwin’s book (p. 436), we have observed, that the publication of Childe Harold was “the crisis of Lord Byron’s fate as a man and a poet.” The present volume sets this truth in the strongest light; but it adds a fact so extraordinary, that if it were not related so circumstantially, we own we should hesitate to give it credence—this fact is, that Lord Byron himself was insensible to the value of Childe Harold, and could with difficulty be brought to consent to its publication! He had written a very indifferent paraphrase of Horace’s Art of Poetry, and was anxious to have it published. This poem he shewn) to Mr. Dallas, who after giving a specimen of it sufficient to shew its mediocrity, continues his narrative thus:

“In not disparaging this poem, however, next day, I could not refrain from expressing some surprise that he had written nothing else; upon which he told me that he had occasionally written short poems, besides a great many stanzas in Spenser’s measure relative to the countries he had visited. ‘They are not worth troubling you with ; but you shall have them all with you, if you like it.’ So came I by Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. He took it from a small trunk with a number of verses. He said they had been read but by one person, who had but very little to commend and very much to condemn; that he himself was of that opinion, and he was sure I would be so too.”

Mr. Dallas, to his great surprise, found the poem replete with traces of the brightest genius, mingled it is true with some absurdities and some improprieties; but his delight very far indeed preponderated, and he instantly communicated his sentiments to Lord Byron, who could with difficulty be brought to believe that this poem was better, or so good, as the very inferior things which he had translated ot imitated from Horace.

“Attentive as he had hitherto my opinions and suggestions, and natural as it was that he should be swayed by such decided praise, I was surprised to find that I could not at first obtain credit with Lord Byron for my judgment on Childe Harold’s
Review.—Dallas’s Recollections of Lord Byron.531
Pilgrimage—‘It was any thing but poetry—it had been condemned by a good critic— had I not myself seen the sentences on the margins of the manuscript?’”

Childe Harold, with all its moral faults, is beyond a doubt the great work of Lord Byron. No one, after reading it, can deny him to be a Poet. Yet was this production the ruin of his Lordship’s mind. “The rapidity of the sale of the Poem,” says Mr. Dallas, “its reception, and the elution of the author’s feelings were unparalleled.” This elation of feeling was the outbreaking of an inordinate vanity which had at last found its food, and which led him in the riotous intoxication of his passions to break down all the fences of morality, and to trample on everything that restrained his excesses. Mr. Dallas rendered him essential service, by persuading him to omit some very blamable stanzas: and when he could not prevail on him to strike out all that was irreligious, he entered a written Protest against certain passages. This protest, which is a very curious document, is preserved in p. 124 of the volume before us. Probably Lord Byron grew weary of such lecturing; for in a few years he dropped his intimacy with Mr. Dallas, and fell into other hands, which only accelerated his degradation.

It certainly does appear that Mr. Dallas, from the first to the last of his intimacy with Lord Byron, did every thing that a friend, with the feelings of a parent, could do to win his Lordship to the cause of virtue, but unhappily in vain.

The concluding chapter of this book is written by Mr. Dallas, jun. to whom his father on his death-bed confided the task of closing these “Recollections.” This Gentleman’s reflections on the decided and lamentable turn which the publication of Childe Harold gave to Lord Byron’s character, are forcible and just.